Gangs in the military: Forces conspire to make U.S. gangs a worldwide threat

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  • 1. Matthew O’Deane, PhD & Carter Smith, J.D. , Ph.D. (ABD), 2010 Apr 27
  • 2.
    • Members of most street gangs have been identified on military installations worldwide.
    • Although most prevalent in the Army, the Army Reserves and the National Guard, gang activity is found throughout all branches of the military.
    • The extent of gang presence in the armed services is difficult to determine since many enlisted gang members conceal their gang affiliation.
  • 3.
    • Military and police departments across the U.S. have been infiltrated by gangs wanting access to weapons or sensitive information regarding investigations
    • The threat need not come from the traditional worker.
    • Those who control the finances and personnel assignments, as well as those who oversee logistics shipments can exploit their positions for the gang's benefit.
    • Those holding dual positions must be watched.
  • 4.
    • Many gang members have bypassed these prohibitions and enlisted in the military by failing to report past criminal convictions or by using fraudulent documents.
    • Some gang members conceal past convictions or are told by recruiters they can enlist as long as they do not have any felony arrests or convictions.
    • Some enter the criminal justice system as juveniles and their criminal records are sealed and unavailable to recruiters performing criminal background checks. 
    • It is the policy of the U.S. Army (and other branches) to provided equal opportunity and treatment for all soldiers without regard to race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.
  • 5.
    • Dependent children of service members are involved with gangs and bring gang problems onto secure military facilities.
    • These children are potential candidates for gang membership because of the transient nature of their families.
    • Dependents of military members may be involved in gang-involved drug distribution and assaults both on and off of military bases.
  • 6.
    • The impact of gang members in the military might be compared to the rate of gang crime in a city of over 1 million inhabitants
    • The rate of military gang-related crime could more accurately be compared to the rate of gang-related crime in a large company, Wal-Mart or McDonalds, as examples.
    • Employees are distributed throughout many locations and are expected to favorably represent the company in their communities.
    • Denial is not a recommended response, but it occurs at all levels of government and communities.
    • When leaders of large, urban police departments refuse to acknowledge a gang presence in their cities, this may not mean gangs are absent.
    • Politics is one of the factors that make it increasingly difficult for police officers to eliminate gangs from their community.
    • Gang migration and other growth indicators of gangs can actually be aided by official denial.
  • 7.
    • These are people who have &quot;overcome mistakes.&quot;
      • There is no test for ″overcoming mistakes.″ Both traditional extremists and street gangs tell their people how to ″get past″ the questions that police ask them.
    • They thought that the symbol looked cool (graffiti and tattoos).
      • In the gang world, false representing membership in a gang by displaying symbols of a gang you are not a member of may result in grievous bodily harm or death. If a non-gang member tattooed or painted a symbol he/she (and the tattoo artist) would be sought out by members of the gang that symbol represented as a perpetrator. One of the reasons for this predictable response is what is known as false flagging.
    • The problem is not rampant.
      • Waiting until a problem is “rampant” gives the gangs an unnecessary head start. In 1998, the FBI rate membership in the military the number three reason for migratory gangs (after formal-corporate employment and informal-laborer employment).
  • 8.
    • Members of nearly every major street gang, including the Bloods, Crips, Black Disciples, Gangster Disciples, Hells Angels, Latin Kings, The 18th Street Gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Mexican Mafia, Nortenos, Surenos, Vice Lords, and various white supremacist groups, have been documented on military installations both domestically and internationally.
  • 9.
    • Many enlisted gang members conceal their gang affiliation
    • Military authorities may not recognize gang affiliation or may be inclined not to report such incidences.
    • Enlistment of gang members could lead to the worldwide expansion of U.S.-based gangs.
    • Accurate data reflecting gang-related incidences occurring on military installations is limited because the military isn’t required to report criminal offense statistics occurring on military bases to the FBI.
  • 10.
    • Matthew O’Deane is an investigator for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and a former police officer, detective and sergeant of the National City (Calif.) Police Department. He holds a PhD in public policy from Walden University and is an adjunct professor for Kaplan and National Universities.
    • Carter F. Smith is a retired U.S. Army CID Special Agent and a founding board member of the Tennessee Gang Investigators Association. He is a doctoral candidate at Northcentral University in Prescott, Ariz., and an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Middle Tennessee State University.
  • 11.
    • Butler, R. & Garcia, V. (2006, April). The parole supervision of security threat groups: A collaborative response. Corrections Today , 68(2), 60-63.
    • Burke, M. A. (1974) Dealing with Civilian Crime on Military Installations. Published by SN
    • (2009). Pre-Employment Background Checks. Retrieved July 3, 2009, from
    • Huff, C. R. and McBride, W. D. (1993). Gangs and the Police. In A. P. Goldstein & C. R. Huff (Ed.). The gang intervention handbook. Champaign, IL: Research Press, p. 401-416.
    • Jankowski, M. S. (1991). Islands in the street: Gangs and American urban society. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
    • United States Army Materiel Command, United States, Army Materiel Command (1968) Military Police: Crime Prevention Activities: Crime Prevention Activities.
    • David L. Petrashek (1979) Culture Conflict and Military Crime. Published by University of Wisconsin--Madison.
    • National Alliance of Gang Investigator Associations. (2005). National gang threat assessment. Retrieved from
    • National Gang Intelligence Center [NGIC]. (2007). Intelligence assessment: Gang-related activity in the US armed forces increasing. Crystal City, VA: National Gang Intelligence Center.
    • Strategies to deal with youth gangs. (2000, November).  Organized Crime Digest , 21(21), 6.
    • U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command [CID]. (2006). Summary report gang activity threat assessment: A review of gang activity affecting the Army. Retrieved from static/projects/pages/2006_CID_Report.pdf.
    • U.S. Department of Defense. (1996, March 21). Army task force report on extremist activity. Retrieved January 19, 2009 from
    • Witkowski, M. J. (2004). The Gang's All Here. Security Management . Arlington: May 2004, 48,(5) 95.